All posts tagged: art

The Contemporary Question of Images and Early Christian Art

“Where do we go from here? Today we are experiencing not just a crisis of sacred art, but a crisis of art in general of unprecedented proportions,”[1] notes Cardinal Ratzinger, in the chapter “The Question of Images” of his three-volume work The Spirit of the Liturgy. There he examines the contemporary crisis of art through a detailed history of the image and the icon. He invites us to remember the purpose of Christian art, and of art in general, by looking back at the liturgical and mystical power of early Christian visual exegesis. Our earliest dated examples of Christian art are from the third century, and they are mostly found in funerary contexts, particularly in the frescoes in the Roman catacombs. These images: Simply take up and develop the canon of images already established by the synagogue, while giving it a new modality of presence. The individual events are now ordered toward the Christian sacraments and to Christ himself. Noah’s ark and the crossing of the Red Sea now point to Baptism. The sacrifice of Isaac and …

Vaporwave and Simone Weil’s Void

It is so much simpler to bury reality than it is to dispose of dreams —Don DeLillo, Americana Covetousness has always felt like a dreamscape. You are from moment to moment trapped inside of an experience which evades real contact. Being just a simulacrum of a universe, how can it not? The problem is most obvious in consumerist escapism, where the profound disappointment of not being able to have your cake and eat it too is transmuted into the urge to simply buy another a cake. And another. And so on. One disappointed fantasy leading to the next. Look to the Pacific Garbage Patch to see where the material bric-a-brac of our thwarted fantasies eventually end up. A life-destroying gyre aimlessly churning. An inorganic wound on the world. Simone Weil addressed this feedback loop of desire and consumption in her essay “Forms of the Implicit Love of God”, writing that: The great trouble in human life is that looking and eating are two different operations. Only beyond the sky, in the country inhabited by God, …

The Light of the Liberal Arts is Different in Light of the Faith

This is the theological continuation of the philosophical beginning in The Resplendent Completion of the Liberal Arts. Catholic Theology and the Beginning In the beginning. Theology begins at a beginning. Well, it begins at more than one beginning, but we will begin with the first. So: in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth . . .[1] God created everything above and everything below, and created even this beginning. There is a “before” creation, a before the beginning, but there is no word for it—it is not a before, not like a time with an after, not at all, since there is only “after” the beginning—and it is not really known in itself, known as it is only through the beginning. There was no beginning, and then there was. God created ex nihilo, out of nothing.[2] All that is “something”: God created that. To put it another way: there is that which does not begin, does not, and there is that which begins beginnings. This is God. God simply is. God has no …

The Resplendent Completion of the Liberal Arts

Prolegomena of Meaning We live in a world mediated by meaning.[1] I begin with a well-worn phrase, one that you may never have seen worn thin, and one that cannot be immediately understood. I know that you read it and wonder what on earth I mean by it. Still, you know it is meaningful somehow. At the least you know that I mean something by it, whatever that might be. In other words, in reading it, you know and do not know. This is how the first minutes of the day strike each of us: there, already somehow present to our bleary-eyed consciousness, brimming with an unannounced something. I cannot say what. I can say only that I am awake, and that the morning is not nothing to me. We live in a world mediated by meaning. I begin here and I will explain what it means, though I know it is not readily apparent. I begin here in part because “knowing is not like taking a good look,”[2] is not like staring and seeing, …

Met Gala: Catholicism Broken but Shining

“Yo que sentí el horror de los espejos,” says Jorge Louis Borges. “I’ve been horrified before mirrors.”[1] Such strange things, mirrors. Those mysterious surfaces that reflect the eye’s light back to itself.[2] Poets so like to speak of them. Perhaps out of vanity, and perhaps because in mirrors we see “darkly” (cf. 1 Cor 13:12). One can never quite tell with poets. As for mirrors: mirrors, they are everywhere. Mirrors are experienced “ante el aqua,” writes Borges. “Before water.” Before speculating water that imitates The other blue in its deep sky[3] Or mirrors exist in windows, some of which Rainer Marian Rilke describes as an “Auge.” “An eye, which seems to rest.”[4] An eye that “opens and bangs shut (zusammenschlägt) with a crack of thunder.”[5] It is as if both poets imagine entire worlds behind (beneath? within?) each reflective surface. I include the original languages if only to force the eye to pause, to interpret. To hesitate and search for understanding. After all, knowing is not like looking.[6] I cannot walk along and pick up …

The Cross Must Be Deeply Ugly to Be Beautiful

I first venerated the cross when I was attending a high-school model UN conference that had been accidentally scheduled during Holy Week. The conference was held in New York City near Times Square, and the neighboring church was the Anglo-Catholic Church of St. Mary the Virgin—colloquially known as “Smoky Mary’s” for the odor of incense that fills your nostrils when you enter the immaculate gothic nave. Its vaults are painted blue with gold stars and lined with red and gold trim. Its interior is perfect. After the passion was sung, we took off our shoes, like Moses before the burning bush, and proceeded through two stations of veneration, each with a server instructing us to bow and proceed, before finally kneeling to kiss the cross itself. Usually we kiss icons or relics, but why should we kiss an empty cross, and any old cross, at that? In classical literature, metonymy is a figure of speech whereby a part serves to represent the whole. The cross performs a similar function in Christian theology, for it means …

The 2018 Best Picture Nominees and the Script of Transcendence

The nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced on 23 January 2018. In recent years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences received harsh criticism for a lack of diversity among its nominees which many interpreted as an indication of the Academy’s lack of cultural awareness in general, and many people have simply written off the Oscars as an awards show that only means something for people of a certain gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation. This year, thankfully, the nominees include a more diverse array of incredible talents, but the perennial conversation serves as a reminder of the fact that movies and awards, like most everything else, have become politicized, and it’s not necessarily the best picture that wins “Best Picture.” But, in the end, it doesn’t really matter which film wins the top honor year after year, for in reality, every film in the category is worth our attention for one reason or another. What matters is the fact that the stories told in these movies have the potential to change …

Human Dignity Can’t Be Separated from Ecological Awareness

In the Mojave Desert, palm trees flank Las Vegas’ Guardian Angel Cathedral, a smallish A-frame church that is almost all gray-brown segmented roof, reminiscent of a common backyard armor-plated roly-poly sow bug (actually an isopod terrestrial crustacean of the Armadillidiidae family) found in the dark moist environment underneath rocks. The cathedral is almost as inconspicuous, just a block east of The Strip of Las Vegas Boulevard and low lying compared to its 25 story casino-hotel neighbor across the street to the south. Some people chuckle in surprise to learn that Las Vegas is a diocese with a cathedral, somehow thinking Sin City’s constitutional vices of gambling, prostitution, strip clubs, and easy marriage and divorce are no place for the holiness of the Church. But where else should the Gospel be proclaimed? It is not for the righteous but for sinners. The light of Christ is to shine in the darkened interior of hearts and casinos in the sun-soaked desert. It is to open the eyes of these citizens to a true vision of God, the …

Abstraction, Contemplation, and the Architectural Imagination

The Question: “The Story at the Heart of Faith: Can abstraction call the person into the fullness of humanity?” The Working Definitions: Contemplation/Contemplative Imagination: The total imagination involving all of our faculties: thinking, feeling, remembering, hoping, believing, perceiving, abstracting, conceiving and interpreting. It is the conditional ground for our reception of reality, and hence truth, thereby leading us into the fullness of our humanity. Analogical: Proceeding according to a proper proportion or measure. It is the principle of unity in difference between the part and the whole, the particular and the universal, essentia and esse, becoming and being, the finite and the infinite, where the contraries are so integrated and mutually dependent and informing that to preference one to the expense of the other is to distort the way we contemplate, create, and live in the world. The Response: The titular question as it relates to architecture, specifically sacred architecture, possesses a rather enigmatic character because architecture is an essentially “abstract” art, at least in any strict use or “icon”ic sense of the term. In …

Don’t Ban Art: ‘This is a Bad Idea’

The theme for the school’s annual fund-raising banquet was “The Art of the Possible.” Whoever chose it, I thought to myself, either didn’t know or didn’t care that the phrase was used by Otto von Bismarck to capture the concept of realpolitik: “Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen”—politics is the art of confining oneself to what is within reach, of compromising in the pursuit of the attainable rather than pursuing the ideal. I only knew that myself because my college roommate Susan Gosdick had played the original cast album of Evita pretty much non-stop throughout our sophomore year, and I’d been curious about the origin of the phrase featured in one of Tim Rice’s caustically witty lyrics: Perón & military leaders One has no rules Is not precise. One rarely acts The same way twice One spurns no device Practicing the art of the possible One always picks The easy fight One praises fools One smothers light One shifts left to right It’s part of the art of the possible. The phrase was thus …